IV or intravenous infusion are just a fancy way of saying getting a drip – therefore getting your vitamins via a drip.
Whether you are hungover, feeling a bit flu-ish, tired or just want to boost your general health – vitamin drips are the newest craze promising improved hydration, boosted energy levels and detoxing. However, is this new trend worth the hype?
For the hefty price you would have to pay in order to get one of these drips (averaging over a R1000 depending on cocktail chosen) it is worth investigating thoroughly if it is worth it.
This article will focus on looking at the aspects such as absorption, different types of vitamins, recommended daily allowances, safety concerns and possible side-effects, etc.

 

1. How are vitamins and minerals absorbed when we take them in through food or pills?

When vitamins are taken in by food or pills, absorption begins once they enter your stomach. Enzymes produced by the pancreas and hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach are used to break them up before it is absorbed at the specific absorption site (for example, vitamin B12 absorption starts in the stomach).
Once vitamins are absorbed, they travel via the circulatory system (blood) to the liver, where they are either used up immediately or stored for later use or sent to the kidneys for excretion through urine (often the case when your body does not need as much of the water-soluble vitamins (i.e. vitamin C) as you have consumed).
Whether vitamins can be stored or not depends on whether vitamins are fat-soluble (Vitamins A, D, E & K) or water-soluble (B vitamins, vitamin C). Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored whereas some water-soluble vitamins need to be replenished more frequently.

 

2. How will this differ from getting them through an IV drip?

Getting your vitamins directly in from intravenous infusion means that it goes directly to the liver via the blood stream. From here, the vitamins are either used, stored or sent to the kidneys for excretion. This bypasses the stomach, small intestine and pancreas’ role in digestion which might seem to save time but Dr David Katz (director of the Prevention Research Centre at Yale University School of Medicine) agrees that we are designed to get our nutrients through our gastrointestinal tract (GIT). The benefit of vitamins going through the process of regular digestion via the gastrointestinal tract is that your gut decides the speed of digestion and the rate at which vitamins enter your circulation. Why change what is naturally meant to happen?

In contrast, IV vitamin drips to deliver vitamins, minerals and amino acids directly to the bloodstream. Claims have been made that this maximises absorption, allowing the nutrients to flood your body on a cellular level as larger doses of nutrients can be administered intravenously than orally. Again, claiming that you feel better faster.
However, administering doses of vitamins above the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is mostly likely waste of money (expensive urine) and can be dangerous and harmful to your health.
Also consuming certain nutrients in excessive amounts (above the upper limit) pose certain risks and toxicity; for instance, excessive vitamin C intake may cause kidney stones, magnesium may cause irregular heart rhythm, etc.

Lastly there is a saying in the dietetic profession that rings ‘If the gut works, use it’ and there is a good reason for that. As a dietitian, our last line of defence for feeding a patient whose digestive system cannot be used in hospitalised patients is intravenous feeds (called parenteral nutrition). There are risks involved in this method of feeding and it is only considered as a last resort.
If your villi (digestive surface) in your gastrointestinal tract is not stimulated for absorption, it not only gets lazy but it also gets damaged (gut atrophy). This increases the risk of bacterial infection and sepsis. Besides this, there are always risks of infection involved for an invasive procedure as placing a central line (aka drip) directly into the blood stream. Again, parental nutrition is only used as a last resort and under very strict medical supervision and it is why dietitians favour using your gastrointestinal tract (digestive system) instead of bypassing directly to the bloodstream.
These risks are even apparent if the intravenous vitamin drips are administered in a sterile environment with a-septic techniques.

Other risks include electrolyte and fluid imbalances which could cause cardiac arrest and if there were to be underlying conditions present (such as liver or kidney problems which are unbeknown to a patient) these IV drips may be the cause of organ failure and possibly death.
Additionally, it must be noted that even in cases of true deficiency (iron deficiency anaemia) where an IV drip of iron is given in cases of severe iron deficiency anaemia – an IV drip of iron poses considerable risks including that of anaphylaxis. This drives home the point that IV preparations should not be administered on a whim and under strict medical supervision.

 

3. Are there any vitamins and minerals the body is unable to absorb from food?

• Your body has the ability to absorb all vitamins from food, unless any underlying conditions are present. Examples of underlying conditions that would influence absorption: Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis, Short bowel syndrome, etc.
• For a generally healthy person, the key is to know what the difference is in bio-availability (ability of a person to absorb a nutrient) under certain circumstances and interactions.
• Bioavailability describes the number of vitamins that are available to be absorbed and is influenced by processing, cooking and pick-to-eat time.
• Interactions may also influence the absorption of are for instance; iron absorption is improved in the presence of vitamin C, the same goes for Calcium and Vitamin D. However consuming certain nutrients with phytate containing foods might decrease the absorption.

 

4. Is this new health trend worth the hype?

This new health trend is not worth the hype, for the reason that it poses serious risks which outweigh the benefits.
Dr Robert Graham, internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York says the placebo effect is the reason for people report to feeling energised and healthy after IV drips. This sentiment is shared by Dr Kevin Fiscella, a professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York, who said “There’s no scientific evidence that this has meaningful effects” over the long term.

The placebo effect is defined as a beneficial effect produced by a placebo drug or treatment, which cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment.

As a health professional I wouldn’t recommend any patient receives an IV drip unless it is medically indicated.
Instead, I would recommend that if you feel that you are not getting in enough vitamins and minerals that you speak to your GP or registered dietitian who could run blood tests (e.g. iron studies, vitamin B12, folate) to see if you are indeed in need of “extra” vitamins and/ or minerals. If you are truly deficient then it would be suggested that you follow your medical doctor’s advice on how to increase your levels to normal again and it is imperative that you visit you registered dietitian for dietary advice to correct the underlying problem (an inadequate diet).

Generally speaking if you follow a healthy and balanced diet, eating plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables each day, wholegrains, legumes, lean protein and healthy fats you will consume adequate nutrients and would not be in need of any vitamin infusions as all of these food groups are good sources of vitamins and minerals.

IV vitamin therapy – it is a nay from me!

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